Tuesday, May 22, 2012

O' Willa Cather, the Answer is Yes

“The coffin was got out of its rough box and down on the snowy platform.” -Cather, The Sculptor’s Funeral

Soft morning with the warm breeze outside, I'm sitting in the classroom by the window drinking coffee in the quiet before the day begins. There are no students yet to groan and slump in chairs, no administrators with clipboards pacing in the back of the room during my lectures, no guards in the hallway standing uniformed kids at attention while they blow whistles and glare. No. It's just me in the quiet dawn with Willa Cather.
“The daughter- the tall, raw-boned woman in crepe, with a mourning comb in her hair…” -Cather, The Sculptor’s Funeral

I know it's dangerous to think of artists as lovers, to read their words or stare at their paintings or drift away to their sounds and call them friends, guides to the soul, I know that gets one into trouble... isolates you... makes the "real" people in your life upset... perhaps it's best to just think of them as companions and leave it at that.
“We meant to be great men. Even I, and I haven’t lost my sense of humor…” -Cather, The Sculptor’s Funeral

People don't necessarily understand when you say it either... try telling someone that you consider Jacque Loussier or Anton Vivaldi to be your soul mate. You're either an idiot or pretentious or worse... they're going to make you pay.
It was all about the American Midwest for Willa Cather, who was born in 1873 and shortly after her parents moved to a farm in Nebraska. Schools were far away and so she was taught Latin and English Literature by her Grandmothers. I love that. That a family member could teach you a love of literature and language and that somehow you could make a career of it. Cather wrote two of my favorite books, O Pioneers! And My Antonia. She died in 1947.

But I feel that way about Willa Cather this morning... as I prepare to read her to my students who will undoubtedly nod off and complain about how the pioneer spirit has nothing in common with their life... or how the frontier is gone so why study it... or why can't we read The Hunger Games instead... and I will hold you very tightly in my hands Willa, I will clutch you to my chest, absorb their strong objections... and then very quietly explain why I love you to even the deafest of ears.

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